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Reblogged:NRO's Latest Derailment

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National Review is no friend of Ayn Rand, as amply demonstrated first by its infamous non-review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers and confirmed by the fact that it stands by same decades later. As I argued ages ago, this tells us much more about that publication than it does about Rand:
"A Strangely Important Figure." It is the adverb in the title which is important, for it suggests at the same time that it is odd for Rand to have achieved prominence, that she is an oddball, and that Rand's nonconformity somehow makes it implausible that she is important at all. That is basically the whole point of the article and of everything I have ever seen about Rand in National Review. Ayn Rand once compared National Review unfavorably to Christian Science Monitor because the latter admits that it is a Christian publication rather than posing as a secular one... [bold added]
I explored this infatuation with conformity at some length and concluded in part about its author:
This is a man who is out of ideas throwing everything but the kitchen sink (or, for that matter, an actual counterargument) at an intellectual giant. Aside from what I trudged through at length, there's a silly Freudian quip about a scene in one of the novels, there's the usual charge that her circle was a cult, and even a snide comment about how Rand looked. What a gentleman! Every kind of cheap-shot imaginable occurs in this typewritten sneer. The kind of readers who accept such lame substitutes for arguments are the kind who, ultimately, really don't make much of a difference in the world. The kind of readers who do care about ideas will think for themselves and eventually see through the hokum. They'll judge what Rand had to say on its own merits. Who knows? A few may even learn about her for the very first time because of this article. (Something like that drew my attention to Rand for the first time.) Her eloquent voice will still be heard and will still win their minds.
Kevin Williamson hardly goes to such lengths, but hisĀ take on the recently-killed California bullet train is similarly unjust regarding Rand. That he bizarrely includes the false and gratuitous smear of Ayn Rand as a "utopian" shows -- at best -- that he is either incredibly sloppy or hates Rand to the point he can't see straight:
Image of first page of utopian document via Wikipedia (public domain).
The fundamental progressive idea is central planning. In the progressive imagination, society is a puzzle to be solved, a grand Rubik's Cube that can be adjusted and readjusted and experimented with until -- perfection! The progressive looks at society the same way a child looks at a model railroad set or an ant farm -- which is to say, from a point of view that is effectively godlike. Human beings, their families, their desires, their pleasures, their dreams, their businesses, their associations, their communities -- all of these are only chessmen to be moved around in pursuit of utopia.

A car can go basically anywhere its driver wants. A train can go only where the central planners have preordained. It is for this reason that trains have long been at the center of the progressive vision. And not only the progressive vision: Such modern utopians as Ayn Rand find in the railroad the model of the kind of society they desire: a society that is designed, that proceeds according to plan. Whose plan? Preferably one of their own, of course, but they'll get on board for almost any old plan if the alternative is no plan at all. [bold added]
Think about the bolded sentence for a moment in light of the fact that an important point Rand makes in the novel is that central planning can't and shouldn't run a even railroad, much less society at large. When called on his lumping together of Rand with her ideological opposites on the left, all of whom he calls "utopians," his feeble defense is basically more of the same:
Her most famous book is a novel about the formation of an ideal community, the thrust of which would have been familiar in Oneida or Arden, even if the politics were different.
No. The book doesn't end with the chapter on the "Utopia of Greed," but with the men who went on strike returning to rebuild America, including the following lessening of government control over the economy:
The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade ... " (Atlas Shrugged, p. 1073)
If by utopian, Williamson means "dictating how others are to live," he is plainly wrong about Rand. If by utopian, he means "thinking deliberately about how men should organize as a society," perhaps he should admit that he has big problems with the fact that the founding fathers and Ayn Rand did so at all. And if by utopian, he means that Rand asserts that there is a way of life proper to man, he should come clean about why he has a problem with Rand doing so, but not one with other philosophers or with religion.

-- CAV

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